Remembering Derby On The Eve of Preakness
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And no, it is not Christmas. Not Halloween or back to school either. If you live in Kentucky or surrounding areas you know that none of those compare to the sights, sounds, and feels of DERBY season. I personally prefer the Holiday season but to each his own. But for many people in Kentucky and especially Louisville, Derby is absolutely their favorite time of year.
I can say that I have had almost every Derby experience there is to have. I have been to the Oaks twice and the actual Derby once (although I was only in the infield). I have been attending Thunder Over Louisville on and off since I was 7 starting with its introduction in 1989 (the nighttime fireworks started in 1990) and have been attending the parade since birth I’m sure (my mother used to get me out of school for it). I was even IN the parade a few times with my high school marching band (walking 1-3 miles blowing into a heavy brass instrument when I barely weighed 100 lbs is NOT something I care to remember. Although I would like that weight back though...). My family used to celebrate Derby like a true holiday with cookouts and family gatherings and I loved getting my annual new “derby outfit”.
And OF COURSE I can’t forget the cruising on Broadway. I was 16 and was at the end of my junior year of high school (cuz you know, I’m almost a senior so I’m grown right?) when I was finally able to go out and partake with my friends. We parked the car and walked Broadway taking in all the sights, scenes, and smells. I remember the sweet smoky smell of bbq on every corner and vendors on every block. ALL BLACK ran/owned. Screaming Eagles which was a black motorcycle club located in the west end was also a few blocks of bbq, other food, vendors, and all kinds of activity. I can't lie and say everything was always good wholesome fun. There was A LOT of shit I had no business seeing or being around. Girls getting naked and doing whatever the late 90’s-early 2000’s version of twerkin’ was on cars and in the streets. A BUNCH of drug activity, and I was groped more than once by men who looked old enough to be my daddy’s daddy while walking through crowds. Sad thing is, we were all so used to that kind of behavior it didn’t cause a big stir like it would today. We’d just hit em with a “get the fuck off me” and walk away (some of us threw punches). But those are different stories for a different post.
I did the whole Broadway cruising/hang out in the street's thing along with the usual BBQs, Thunder, and parades until my mid-20s. Then EVERYTHING changed. Well, first of all, Louisville changed. In the mid-late 2000’s they tore down one of the largest projects complexes in the city (Cotter Homes/Southwick). A lot of those residents moved to different areas of the city and SOME of those with violent bad habits went with them. The neighborhood where I was raised changed dramatically and among the other financial reasons, my mother moved out for safety. Things were just not the same anymore. Also, gentrification was starting to get hot and heavy in the downtown area which pushed more people and crime further into the west end and other areas. 4th street had started being developed along with luxury apartments, building up the waterfront, new restaurants, bourbon distilleries, and all kind of fancy hipster/new money type of entertainment.
Most notably though, was the dissolution of cruising on Broadway. Admittedly it was becoming a little more dangerous and harder to handle than it had been in the past. BUT there were still plenty of people (MAINLY BLACK people) still doing things right and having fun. It was cheap fun. Fun for those in the west end community to have get-togethers and block parties. Those who were not in the “in crowds” of Middle/Upper-class black Louisville or who didn’t feel comfortable or have the money to go to the track and have seats on actual Oaks and Derby day. And then in 2008 Broadway cruising was officially banned. Streets were blocked off and officers and patrols were EVERYWHERE, more than at actual Churchill Downs and other parts of the city (Again, another post for another day). So they were, and 11 years later, STILL are left with nothing special to do in their communities. Just personal BBQs and get-togethers and even MORE policing, which makes absolutely no damn sense but I digress.....
But amongst the deadlock in west Louisville, Derby is THRIVING elsewhere in the city. The completion of the buildup of most of downtown Louisville has been completed, The Yum, the Convention Center, The Omni hotel, a SLEW of new restaurants, other hotels, bars, etc. And in the east ends of Louisville are the same build-ups, just on a smaller scale. This year, more top tier celebrities were in town than EVER (at least that I have noticed) notable parties like the Darrell Griffth experience are now $130 plus for tickets. I remember only paying $55 when I went my first time 12 years ago. And it seems only a certain type of crowd enjoy Oaks Day and Derby Day at the track the “REAL WAY”.
Admittedly it’s nice to see the city flourishing around this time of year. In a small way, It does make me proud. However, I CAN’T ignore that some people and parts of the city are just well, Ignored and cast to the side. Not just Derby time, but all year round. As Louisville gets more “big city” like, I can’t deny that the economic/social discrepancies are now worse and more blatant than ever. There are now more homeless camped out downtown and around the city and on every highway corner than ever before. Parts of the city are painfully obvious that no one cares. Not the government and not the people who live in the neighborhoods, because well, no one else seems to care about them so they stopped caring about themselves. We are becoming a city of haves and have nots and that in-between kind of get lost in the shuffle. I hope that eventually things even out one day, but I am not as hopeful as I once was about the growth of this city.